Leah Schuldheisz is the friendly face and voice of Fruitland Valley Vineyard and Winery, located in beautiful Stevens County. The vineyard is located along the cliffs above Lake Roosevelt, and the Winery and Tasting Room are just down the road. Leah’s parents, owners Brian and Kathy Benson, are thrilled to see their original idea for a vineyard and winery has come full circle into fruition. Their business has truly become a family affair to include Leah, her husband John, and their three children. Leah’s 7-year-old son, Henry answers the phone with all the professional and polite tones typical of workers in the hospitality industry. His message taking skills are equally impressive. His 2.5 year-old-twin sisters are also learning as they watch their older brother help tend the grapes in the vineyard. Leah is proud to have her son be the 4th generation of her family to attend Columbia K-12 school district. Her family has deep roots in the community, with Kathy’s great-grandfather originally owning the property, over 100 years ago.
Leah grew up in the Fruitland area and has returned “home” after taking 10 years away for school and life experiences. Truly living a life of adventure, she has her degree in Recreational Management with a Minor in Business. She and her husband have shared those adventures together, including an 8-month backpacking trip through South America. They were exploring the vineyards of Mendoza, Argentina by bicycle, enjoying wine tasting and the countryside, when her parents called to ask if they would like to come back to Washington to start a vineyard. Leah and John went to rest at “an amazing WWOOF (World-Wide Workers on Organic Farms) house and discuss it.” They decided it would be a good idea to build something similar if they were going to plant a vineyard, and maybe start a family to fill the home with. When they returned home to Fruitland, they immediately went to work planting vines, building their eco-home, and as it were, their family. Within 30 days, they had a start to all three!
Brian and Kathy had been busy taking months’ worth of classes about growing grapes and connected with Inland Desert to acquire certified clean vines, and got in touch with the WSU Extension Office for Viticulture and received advice for trellis design and the best varieties to grow in their climate. A quick glimpse of their website tells us: “The grapes were planted in 2012 on a 10-acre plot of land that overlooks the Columbia River. Each of the 7,000 grape plants have been planted by hand. The vineyard sits at a 1400-foot elevation surrounded by majestic pine trees and diverse wildlife.” There is a total of nine grape varietals grown, including five red varietals and four white varietals, most of which are traditional in Bordeaux-style blends.
Reds: Malbec, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Cabernet Sauvignon.
Whites: Orange Muscat, Riesling, Pinot Gris and Sauvignon Blanc.
Education is very important to the whole family, and Leah says they contribute their success in large part to continuing their education through various programs offered in Washington State. They try to take 2-4 classes a year in addition to having the good fortune of a few generous wine makers that provide mentoring. Support from the community adds to their success, and Leah shines with gratitude as she tells of local business owners carrying her family’s wine in their stores and shops, some making signs to advertise their vineyard and winery. From friends and locals showing up to help plant vines at the very beginning, to helping with bottling wine a few years later, hosting and attending events in the Tasting room, and sharing their wine via word-of-mouth with everyone they know, have all contributed to the growth and success of their business.
Brian is head winemaker along with Kathy, and follows a traditional path of winemaking, keeping the process simple and letting the fruit tell its own story. Like many winemakers know, good wine starts in the vineyard and that is where John oversees to tending the vines using sustainable farming practice with the rest of the family. The wines are then aged – reds in oak barrel and whites in stainless steel – before being introduced to the bottle, which proudly carry a label designed by Ann Harman and Kathy to showcase the vineyard and location on Lake Roosevelt. The lake aides in producing dry and hot summers followed by a longer than average growing season for the region. This label is a tribute to the family land and the beautiful region to live, raise a family, and farm.
The adjoining Tasting Room in the winery is popular for local gatherings and classes and John, who has culinary experience, enjoys taking charge of menu offerings. The Tasting Room is open seasonally and locals enjoy spending time there with community members and visitors alike. Brian is currently busy creating an outdoor space with grass and patio, and one of his famous rock walls with fireplace. The outdoor space will be open for the 2020 summer season.
The current list of wines available for public purchase are:
’18 Sauvignon Blanc
’18 Cabernet Franc Rosé
’16 Cabernet Sauvignon
’16 Red Blend
’16 Cab Franc
Currently these wines are available at the following locations:
Fruitland Service Station, Fruitland, WA
Fired Up Pizza, Chewelah, WA
Fired Up Brewing, Colville, WA
Meyers Fall’s Market, Kettle Falls, WA
McCoy’s Marina, Fruitland, WA
Ralph’s Tavern, Kettle Falls WA
The Tribune Smokehouse, Davenport, WA
For ease of purchase, encourage your local wine store to carry it for you!
Grape Varietal Characteristics from Fruitland Valley Vineyard and Winery website:
Merlot wines are versatile, and the grapes can produce a multitude of flavors such as vanilla, smoke, mushroom, earth and cedar depending on the aging vessel.
Cabernet Franc boasts of interesting fruity and vegetal dimensions such as strawberry, red plum, roasted pepper and even chili pepper. It produces wines similar to the Merlot grape.
Cabernet Sauvignon wines differentiate themselves for having striking savory aromas of black pepper and green peppercorn. When fermented, the grapes produce a medium-bodied wine with moderate acidity and tannins.
Malbec wines have a characteristically deep red color, ample levels of tannin, and a plum flavor component that adds complexity to claret blends (wines made in the Bordeaux style). They also do well as a stand-alone grape, producing a fruity, smooth wine popular for pairings.
Petit Verdot grapes add a deep and earthy dimension to any fermentation. Single variety wines made with Petit Verdot are very rare. They are typically grown as blending grapes for Bordeaux-style wines, and FVV follows that tradition.
Orange Muscat grapes have brilliant, tropical fruit flavors like pineapple and papaya, and have a great nutty finish. As with all Muscat, these grapes produce fun, sweet wines.
Pinot Gris wines are well-known for their refreshing citrus notes which are often accompanied by aromas of peach and nectarine.
Riesling wines are highly acidic and are famous for an aroma reminiscent of diesel or petrol. Petrol aside, they are often described as tasting of stone fruit and tropical fruit and are often quite floral. Our recent Riesling vintages had a distinct jasmine note.
Sauvignon Blanc grapes distinguish themselves from other whites for having green and vegetal notes. FVV believes their grapes lend themselves well to malolactic fermentation which produces a lovely buttery note in the wine.